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Dylan Lederle-Ensign

Graduate Student at UC Santa Cruz. Studying games, software and ultimate frisbee

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These sections lead to the main proposal of this paper, the potential for hacktivist video games. A hacktivist video game would procedurally enact its argument in a game form, while having a direct computational or real world impact that carries out that argument. A hacktivist game would lower the barrier of technical skill for activists interested in aiding a cause. It could artistically and intellectually engage its participants while simultaneously politically engaging them.

A hacktivist video game would be as much a work of art as any other carefully crafted video game. This fact, combined with the game’s direct impact, would be a unique form of protest art that not only aims to convince the audience of its argument, but also to politically engage them in working towards a realization of the cause. The goal of such a game would be to have some direct impact rather than an indirect one carried out by its players.

One motivation for creating a hacktivist game would be to engage and empower a larger number of people in hacktivist causes. The sort of hacktivism that creates new technology to promote freedom, as explored in section I, has a very high level of technical skill associated with it. This is very much contradictory to traditional forms of mass activism.

For example, the most famous “hacktivist” groups currently active are Anonymous and Wikileaks. Some may dispute their classification as hacktivist, but for most of the general public these two groups are the face of politically motivated hacking. Both groups are comprised of a secretive, small, elite leadership, which is impenetrable to other people who wish to help further their causes. This is directly opposed to the tactics of social or political movements in the 20th century. Ground breaking community organizer Saul Alinksy once said that there are two source of power, mass money and mass people, and social movements only have access to the latter.

This concentration of power in the hands of the few is not only an impediment to freedom, it exposes the entire “organization” to great risk if those few are removed. Of course, a hacktivist game would not solve all of the structural problems in hacktivist organizations. Hopefully, by distributing the political task to a wide network of activists they could reduce risk of outside interference halting their political action. One application of a hacktivist game would be an interface for performing what Amazon’s  Mechanical Turk calls “Human Intelligence Tasks”. These are tasks that are performed by humans, but evaluated in aggregate by a computer program. The name “Mechanical Turk” comes from a famous chess playing machine of the 18th century. The “machine” beat chess players across Europe, but was actually a clever ruse. A chess master hid inside the base of the Turk and played the game, secretly controlling the machine.

The ludic origin of that name aside, the concept of humans game play having computational impact is well known. Google’s Image Labeler takes the form of a simple game in which players attempt to tag a series of shared images with the same tag. The catch is, it must be a word which this image has not been tagged with yet. Humans are able to analyze the images differently than a computer algorithm would be able to. A hacktivist may have a challenge which is easier solved by having a mass amount of players solve little pieces of the problem and return the results to a central computer program. In such a case, a carefully crafted hacktivist game would suit their purposes.